Man, have I got some stuff I really need to get off my chest.

I know you know what I mean.

It starts with the small stuff that gets under your skin — worn shoelaces on your boots, bits of software that don’t work and have never worked, the endless number of people who you don’t know who are happy to call you to ask for your money on the phone.

And if it was only the small stuff, that would almost be OK.

But it’s not the small stuff, it’s the big stuff, and its got everyone that I know in a constant state of fully clenched and ready to blow.

I mean, look around you.

I’ve never known a time when there was so much on the line, with so little sensation of which way it was going to go.

But that’s really not what I really meant to talk about, it just has a way of creeping in.


“Dad, I got a problem with the bike.”

“Oh? What kind of problem?”

“It doesn’t run.”

“That seems kind of non-specific. How doesn’t it run?”

“Well, it had been backfiring, and it seem like it’s always going to stall.”

“Does it get better or worse when the bike warms up”

“Neither. It sucks all the time. It got so bad last time I didn’t think I was going to make it out of the parking lot. I parked it.”

“Ok. I guess we’ll have to get it back to the shop and see what’s what with it.

Do you think its ridable enough to make it home?”

Keep in mind that the ride home bisects the most trafficked roads of the whole greater Baltimore-Washington metro area. If you have doubts about power delivery it might not be the right mission profile.

“No way.”

“Ok, then we’re going to need a Plan B.”


Plan B came in the form of my new good friends at U-Haul.

U-Haul, it seems, makes Serious Bank from Motorcyclists That Like To Trailer Motorcycles.

And while I have always been of a bent to avoid joining that club, I think there is some sort to ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card when the motorcycle in question cannot move under its own power.

At least, that’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.

Anyhoo, the nice folks at U-Haul mave designed a rental trailer whose only job is to move motorcycles. It’s a 5′ x 9′ all-aluminum utility trailer, with a built-in loading ramp an a neat front wheel chock that is part of the trailer’s structure.

About 5 minutes on the laptop reserved one — in real-time, on a Sunday afternoon — located in Gaithersburg about halfway between Jefferson and College Park.

If you’re in a Jam with a motorcycle that won’t motor, its hard to imagine a more convenient way out, at least if you own something with a trailer hitch.


While I waited for U-Haul to call me back to confirm, I called Harley-Davidson of Frederick. HD of F — it should be observed — is the only motorcycle dealership that I know of that is cheerfully open seven days a week. This feature has already saved a few Sundays and Mondays for me and the Blast already.

I had a list of parts that followed my lines of thinking given very minimal available troubleshooting information. One or two, or maybe three things was going on here. We were either running crazy rich or crazy lean.

The statistically least likely thing, and hence not worth buying parts for, was that the Blast’s teeny weeny electronic ignition box had tossed it.

The crazy rich option would involve the predicted death of the electro-mechanical auto choke unit, and I already had parts for that.

If you were willing to move past that then we were wither dealing with a completely clogged carburetor — which also seemed unlikely, given that the bike had been running reasonably well immediately before it’s untimely mid-stroke demise, or with a fuel system that wouldn’t flow any fuel — which was either a clogged petcock…

or Venting.

Now I have been driven beyond the bounds of distraction by fuel systems that wouldn’t flow fuel.

The Blast, fortunately, is a bit more modern motorcycle, with better coverage from its Internet user forums. User forums which thoroughly document the frequent failure of the tank’s venting system, whose key component is an EPA-mandated rollover valve that has been known to cut off flow when the system was demonstrably straight up and down and in no way rolled over.

So I ordered a complete set of carburetor jets — slow speed, main and needle — a tank petcock, some vent line and a rollover valve. A rollover valve, it should be noted, that has had its part number superseded by a redesigned part at least five times, according to Shell, the HD of F counterperson.

You may or may not find that noteworthy, but I did, anyway.

HD had three of the six parts in stock — the others would be available in a day or two.

5 minutes after I got off the phone with HD of F, U-Haul called me to confirm that the trailer was available, so Finn and I grabbed our jackets and headed for the pickup.


Fast forward to a parking lot outside College Park.

Finn tossed me his keys. I threw a leg over the Buell, turned on the fuel, and hit the starter. The bike fired on the third stroke, and came right up to its high idle.

It was enough to give one a false sense of security.

I blipped the throttle a few times. The first two times, we got response, and revs. The third time we got boggage. When I let the throttle go, it stalled in deterministic and terminal sounding way. I waited a few seconds and tried the starter again. The bike fired, stumbled and quit.

“You were right. Never would have gotten out of the parking lot. Let’s load her up.”


Back at the shop, The Blast took up a spot on its swingarm stand, with my LT temporarily exiled outside to the driveway.

The next afternoon, when the opportunity presented itself, I test fired the bike on the stand. The previous pattern repeated, except when the bike first started to stumble, I reached forward to the fuel cap latch, flipped it open and pulled. The cap didn’t want to come out — there was vacuum in the tank. A bit of a more determined tug liberated the cap, and three quarters of a second later, the engine returned to full song.

Venting it was. Gasoline engines don’t run well when they can’t get any, apparently.


A day later HD called to let me know they had received most of my order, but were short three of the carb internals — those would be coming in in a couple of days.

I swung by on the LT at lunchtime, and resolved to find the hour or so it would take to drain and refit the Blast’s fuel tank.

On my way back inside I yanked the Blast’s wierd-alice conical air filter — a reusable dry gauze type. I grabbed a small tin container, and set the filter in dishsoap to soak inside in the worksink.


When the weekend rolled round, it was time to make this bike run.

The Buell’s fuel tank is on the less complex end of the modern “how-hard-can-we-make-it-to-remove-this-motorcycle-fuel-tank” spectrum.

I know this, because my K-bike is all the way on the other, wrong end.

A single 10mm bolt and the oil dipstick retain the tank’s plastic cover.

Two more 10mm bolts under that cover and some cylindrical rubber bumpers get you down to the single screw on the fuel line and your tank sitting happy on the workbench.

Somewhere along the line, I inherited a little Black and Decker Workmate folding workbench and lightweight vise. It’s an ingenious little thing, with the two halves of the worksurface driven and located by two hand operated jackscrews.

For a job like this, its perfect.

I opened the surface of the Workmate all the way up, and sat the tank on it so that the petcock sat between the halves of the table.

I grabbed the gas can for my lawnmower, pulled the filler neck off it, and sat a funnel in its place. I opened the tank’s petcock to ‘Reserve’ and then just let time do its magic.

While it was draining, I removed the old tank vent line from the frame, in preparation for its replacement. Predictably, an attempt to blow air through the line produced — in addition to giving me ‘HighTest Breath’ — wholly unsatisfactory results.

One of two things was going on. Either this was another one of those ‘dang bugs’ stories — with a spider having engineered an effective blockage of the line — or it was observable manifestation of the apocryphal stories about modern alcohol-laced fuel turning soft fuel system bits to mush — with the line having melted and welded itself internally.

Either way, the tank hadn’t been able to flow fuel, and with no fuel, well…

My thoughts were that if one bit of rubber had possibly been mushed, then all of them were suspect, so we’d clear out everything so we wouldn’t have to back here for say, another 15 years or so.

Fortunately, I had a really good mental image of how all of the tank components worked, because when one of my son, Apprentice Architect Finn’s professors assigned a cutaway drawing — of anything the student chose — Finn had drawn this.


The shop manual might be good, but for me anyway, this was way better.

I’ll never quite understand why the Blast’s designer’s did this, but they did. The fuel tank’s rollover valve stem is just long enough that — once the vent fitting that retains it is unscrewed — it is too long to be removed from the tank unless the tank’s cap retaining ring is removed first.

Which, if you think about it for a second or two, represents a bit of sleight of hand, both to disassemble and to put back together.

No matter — I managed to remove the top ring and get the old rollover valve out without dumping it into the bottom of the tank. My shop manual indicated that the rubber seal and tank ring needed to be coated with a thin layer of Hylomar aviation sealant.

Two things occurred to me concurrently as I was looking at the disassembled parts in my hand. The first was that I actually had some Hylomar, because as an impressionable youth I had been (unwillingly) instructed by Ted Porter, who had impressed upon me that using anything else for several critical BMW Airhead assemblies constituted some kind of wrench malpractice. The second was that these parts weren’t the original factory parts — someone had replaced this valve before — because the sealant was nowhere in evidence. And that the person that did this clearly didn’t know Ted, because they didn’t have any Hylomar.

After a very thin coating was applied to the rubber seal, I replaced the rollover valve and carefully retightened the eight allen bolts holding the top ring in place. I reinstalled the valve’s top fitting on the outside of the tank, making sure to point the barb to the 11 o clock position so it would be able to accept the rubber vent line.

I then removed the two phillips head screws that held the petcock to the bottom of the tank and removed it. The petcock’s nylon screening looked very discolored when compared with that of the new part. Being easily amused, I giggled a little at the sight of the ‘Made In Italy’ script on the petcock’s valve handle. As someone wrestling with a motorcycle that was inexplicably dealing with niggling reliability issues, this is just the sort of confidence builder one needs, eh?

A new o-ring, and retorquing the two phillips heads yielded a fuel tank whose entire fuel flow path was now completely new.

I took a few minutes to look at my laptop to check the shop manual to see how the fuel vent line was supposed to be routed. The routing was fairly elaborate – following the left side of the oil-in-frame backbone, crossing in front of the carb and then ending inside a frame recess in the frame’s rear section. While probably a good idea in terms of protecting the vent from road debris or water, it did make me wonder about how good an idea it might be to have fuel vapors hanging out in close proximity to the battery and fuze blocks.

Of course, that hadn’t been how the line I had removed had been routed — it had been routed down the front frame downtube so that it exited near the riders left footpeg –a spot that was prone to sucking up water or debris from the roadway. I took a few minutes to thread a new vent hose in the factory position, engaged the OEM frame ties, verified that the hose wasn’t kinked or pinched, and then cut the front to length.

I replaced the tank on the motorcycle, and reattached the fuel line, hold down bolts and the tank retaining bumpers. I replaced the clean and dried gauze air filter, snapped the airbox closed, and replaced the plastic tank cover. I refilled the tank with about a half gallon of fuel from the lawn mower gas can, waiting a few seconds, then checked the new petcock and o-ring for leaks.

Dry as a bone.

I turned the fuel tap to ‘Reserve’, waited ten seconds, and fingered the starter.

After three or so Whoooomps, the big single lit up and came up to a solid high idle.

Starting, though, had never been the problem.

I gave the bike some gentle throttle, verifying that we had response, and working to get some heat into an engine that had been sitting for more than a little while.

After a few minutes the autochoke came off — causing some minor drama as the carb’s internal enrichment port was slooooooowly closed. The Blast’s single took up an even slow idle — smoothly taking blips of the gas — and continued to do just that and nothing else.

Which, considering the relative scarcity of that a few minutes before this, was beginning to look like progress.

After a few minutes of running on the stand and giving her an occasional blaat of throttle and then letting the engine idle, there was no sign of the fuel starvation that would have formerly rendered the Blast dull, lifeless and inert.

It was time to get this little bike off the service stand, out of my garage, and tested on the road.


It didn’t take more than ninety seconds to be absolutely sure that something significant had changed with the Blast.

Where it had formerly been a tad fluffy off the bottom, but pretty good when the revs came up, now it was …almost punchy.

Ok, well that might be overblown, but drivability was much improved, and opening the throttle was definitely fun and encouraged you to do that some more.


I ran the bike through a few more heat cycles over the next couple of days, and except for the rough moments each time the autochoke finally closed, the little bike was running like a champ.

Now I’d have to look for an opening to get it back to College Park.


Saturday came and Finn was using every communications medium available to him to let the Home Office know how much he’d really like to have his motorcycle back.

Call it an opening.

Of course, it would a sunny 35 degree day opening, but an opening is an opening.

Doris hopped in the pickup and headed towards Finn’s place while I layered up for the ride.

This is one of those days where a good fleece top and an Aerostich suit can make 50 plus miles of what could be uncomfortable pretty comfortable.

I also had a new pair of cold weather gloves to break in, so this seemed like an opening for that, too.


The Blast started pretty well, especially considering the overnight low had been just under 20 degrees F.

As I rumbled up into Jefferson, I remembered I’d been wondering how far this bike would run before hitting Reserve, now that it would actually flow fuel.

Whereupon, three quarters of a mile from home, and showing about 80 miles on the trip odo, I promptly ran out gas, and turned the petcock to Reserve.

I wouldn’t have to wonder anymore.

After a brief stop at Jefferson’s BP, to purchase $4.51 of premium fuel, I pointed the Blast over Mountville Road, cutting across the southern end of Frederick County to miss Frederick City traffic and use a few miles of backroad dancing to make sure the little bike was running fully on song. Mountville and Maryland 80 are both delightfully technical, with lots of grades and corner combinations to string together. With the Blast’s 500 single up in fourth gear it was eager to carry momentum, turning sharply in to each corner and torquing out in a single cylinder machine gun symphony.

Singles are cool.

Apologies to Dr. Who, and to bowties.

After merging on to Interstate 270, it was clear that the bike had been subtly starving for fuel long before it had failed completely — this had been a problem that had been degrading slowly for a very long time. Before the fix, the Blast hadn’t really made usable power in top gear until about 75 miles per hour — post fix there was good power from about 63. Rolling fourth gear on at lower highway speeds actually produced a reasonable rush of power.

34 horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot, unless you’ve been spending some time riding the same bike around with it making 27 for a while.

I’ll also admit that BMW S and LT fairings make one spoiled when transitioning to the Blast’s tidy flyscreen — its hard to imagine how doubled over I’d have to get to gain any coverage from that. Still, other than two or three numb fingers on each hand, and a couple on each foot, it was a pretty nice day and a pretty nice ride.

Greenbelt came up a bit too fast, really.

Finn seemed glad to see his motor.

We locked the Blast up and headed out in search of a burger.


The next day I was reading my Sunday paper, when I heard my phone vibrate.

A text from Finn.

Just took the bad boy out for a spin. Feels much better. Better acceleration from a stop and it doesn’t feel like it is sucking wind just to carry me lol

Nothing I didn’t know.

The things that make us worried and sad can be complicated and seemingly impossible to straighten out.

But the things that make the riders among us happy can be the simplest things in the world.


Snowmobile Parts

I’d kind of hoped that Erik Buell was from someplace in the Great White North.

Someplace where there are polar bears, and everybody call their snowmobile their ‘sled’.

Because if it was I’d at least have some way to understand the context for a recent brain puzzler that had my cerebral wires leaking smoke for the last couple of days.

But he’s from Pittsburg.

So I don’t.




I guess I could be underthinking this.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that there might be a snowmobile or two in Pittsburg.

Your odds there have got to be better than Atlanta or Miami, say, but it’s not likely there are a lot of sleds there, compared with say, The UP of Michigan or oh, The Yukon.

So its possible that in his youth Erik Buell had some form of foundational internal combustion experience with a snowmobile, but its a longshot.




So why the hell am I so hung up on snowmobiles, you ask?

Can’t tell you how glad I am you asked that narrative-advancing question.

I’ve continue to have frequent SMS and cell phone conversations with offspring Finn on the subject of his Buell Blast.

Lately he related to me that the bike ran poorly once it was warmed up, which is a behavior that likely links to the performance of one of that motorcycle’s electromechanical oddities, the ‘autochoke’.

Remember that the bike’s design purpose was to be a training motorcycle, and that anything which could be done to make the bike fool- or in this case rookie-motorcyclist-proof should be and was, if possible, done.

One of those things was the ‘autochoke’.

The theory was that when cold, the enrichener circuit defaulted to open — allowing extra fuel into the intake stream. As the engine warmed, an electrical current was applied to a wax inside the body of the ‘autochoke’. As the wax heated and melted, the piston and needle would move up into the carb body and close the enrichment port, and the carburetor would then run through its normal pilot and high speed circuits.

Hot wax? What cockamamie designer came up with this Rube Goldebergian method? For what application? What ever happened to solenoids or switches? What could possible go wrong with such a strangely non-determanistic and complex mechanism?

Other than everything.

When I’d been having The Blast inspected for Maryland registration, I remember talking to the Inspector at Harley Davidson of Frederick as he went through the bike .

He had been fairly unrestrained in expressing how unusual it was for one of these motorcycles to come into his shop completely unmolested and functional.

“Man, everything is here and everything works. Brakes are good — shock and fork are good. Heck, even the ‘autochoke’ works. That never happens.”

I remember thinking to myself that this piece of data was going to be important at some time later.

If those things ‘never’ worked, it was only a matter of short time before this one joined them.




It was, apparently, that time.

After what is now apparently a lifetime of working on complex systems, I have developed a couple of foundational principles.

One of them is never to use a complex solution where a simple one is available.

And easy operation aside, a cable that works has got to be better than a rube-golderbergian gizmo that sometimes works and othertimes, well…

So I couldn’t be the first person down this road, and certainly not the first to fix it.




My first thought which is normally my best one, wasn’t here.

The first thought was that somewhere in the Harley Davidson parts catalog were parts that could be repurposed to do this simple thing.

You know — “Find the cable and mount from a Sportster, and see if they can be made to fit.”

The Blast’s ‘Autochoke’ Carb had been built around the thing — it used a different body, and the orifice in the side of the body where the autochoke sat was the size of a US 5 cent piece.

The Sportster cable and linkage would not work.

Well, the problem could be solved with HD parts — Just take the whole carb from a Sportster, swap that in there, and Bob’s Yer Uncle.

Seemed like an excessive solution.

If I was going to toss the whole carb, we’d be looking at a Mikuni Flatslide, but, well, money.

So with that idea shot, I suspected that at least one of my Fellow Blast Enthusiasts had surely figured it out.

Maybe a few decades on the Internet BMW Riders List has spoiled me to expect that the community has completely figured out absolutely everything before I even knew it was wrong, but the BMW guys and Blast folk are not operating on the same plane.

The Blast folk did have a suggested fix, but the solution wasn’t pretty.

The Blast Forum solution involved massive Dremel MotoTool destruction of the existing plastic electromechanical abomination, and getting a cable to move the large diameter slide that had formerly been moved or not moved by the expanding wax. It looked unreliable, not strong, and like something that — were it to break when you were out on the road somewhere — would leave you worse off than you’d been before, with no way to recreate the fix.

I didn’t like what I was seeing — it didn’t look like any of the Blast Enthusiasts — and there ARE Blast Enthusiasts – had actually come up with an elegant solution.

It was ON, now.




It was time to put on the race face, and do some top speed runs on the Google Machine.

First gear had me searching on manual choke conversion kits.

Second gear had me finding a lot of such kits being sold by motor scooter shops in convenient places like Liverpool and Stuttgart. These shops show pictures of the kits, but no application or installation data.

Third gear showed these kits were for the seemingly two most common scooter carburetors — a series of DelOrtos, and a Keihin CV.

The Blast has a Keihin Constant Velocity carb.

Fourth gear had me looking for Keihin CV Manual Choke Conversion Kits. There was a big cluster of hits on ArcticChat, fortunately, is not a service for lonely singles above the Artic Circle, but rather, the enthusiast forum for owners of Arctic Cat snowmobiles.

Top gear on Arctic Chat showed me pictures of one of their Keihin carbs and its ‘Autochoke’. There was a picture of a replacement autochoke. Chubby rounded bit of ivory plastic… It looked familiar. As the revs climbed towards redline, an image search on their autochoke led me back… to the Blast forum.

<Sound of Very Large Relay Closing>

Where, I had kept asking myself, had Erik Buell or one of his design minions come up with the idea for this ridiculous non-simplification of engine starting technology?

Snowmobile parts.

Freaking. Snowmobile. Parts.

The Arctic Cat dudes and dudettes had similarly described sled motors that started well when cold, but ran like crap when warmed up. The autochoke seemed to have too many failure modes — whether though failure of the wax/heat mechanism, or wear that caused the plastic plunger to bind — that rendered the system dull, lifeless and inert in much less time than it took the rest of the machine to fail.

They had adopted a conversion kit made by an outfit called HOCA Racing.

You can obtain one of those kits from our good friends at




After the UPS man left, I found myself examining the Hoca Choke Conversion Kit.


It’s really a very elegant, very robust, and completely mechanical solution.

The kit contains a machined steel plug the same diameter as the autochoke’s body. The plug has a groove with a meaty o-ring seal, and a machined shoulder that seals to the carburetor body. The next kit part is a machined retaining bracket that engages the plug’s shoulder and its drilled to accept a small screw that engages that retaining hole used for the standard autochoke. The steel plug is threaded to accept a cable sleeve, complete with slack adjusters and locknuts. Finally, the kit includes a replacement for the carb plunger that activates the enrichener jet, a spring and a cable, complete with knob and retaining hardware.

With a few minutes of tank removal, some screw spinning, and one new 5/8 hole in a side cover, The Blast will be much better off.

The members of the Blast board have helped me to learn a great deal about the operation of this not quite simple enough little motorcycle. I’m looking forward to writing up the parts sources and being an information source for them rather than an information consumer, for once.

Now I need to figure out whether this is going to be another toolkit-packing roadtrip to College Park, or whether the Blast itself will get to take another little roadtrip back to Shamieh’s Shop.

While we’re in there we’ll prolly pull and clean out the pilot jet, as well as clean the OEM air filter. Hopefully this will be enough to get the little feller running crisply, and will keep me from having to consider replacing everything intake with a Dan’s Performance Intake Kit.


Another one of those foundational principles we’d been talking about is that stock equipment is almost always best.

Well, except for chokes, anyway.

I’m not ever going to argue that I’m a better tuner than the guy at that factory that had prototyping equipment, exhaust gas analyzers and a dyno. I’ve seen lots of examples where ‘performance parts’ reduce performance.

Both the intake tract and the stock exhaust on the Blast’s engine appear to be highly engineered. I’m kind of fond of the typical underframe Buell exhaust, too — it does a good job of keeping the big cylinder’s more obnoxious bark under control, while still letting the rider hear the low exhaust tones.

My gut tells me that modifying either the intake or exhaust on this bike will result in less drivability — flat spots, poor throttle response. Might be able to re-jet your way out of it, might not. Worst case is that you end up with an obnoxiously loud bike that only runs great WFO — a thing, it should be noted, is a tad incompatible with operation in a modern urban environment.

You might be able to ride the bike that way for a while in the city, just not for very long.

Nevermind, that being inexplicably Scots at heart, I’m having a hard time contemplating spending $250 to upgrade a $900 motorcycle.

So we’ll see if we can get what’s there working perfectly and predictably.

Finn’s Blast was supposed to be a transportation appliance, not a lifestyle.

Not that that’s ever worked before.

Don’t Eff With Electricity, Man

My R90S is, I am ecstatic to say, back on the road.

At the risk of further offending the motorcycle Gods, who have already demonstrated in no uncertain terms that they have both the tools and desire to use them to punish moto-hubris, the bike is running even better than it did before its little tussle with electricity.

A top gear blast up MD17 this a.m. had it pulling top gear with an authority that is downright shocking for a motorcycle of this age.

Folks may recall that when I found myself beside the road with a mass of smoking wiring, I briefly considered whether, had I been on a roadside in Tibet, I would have been able to effect repairs in-situ to save my own life.

Subsequent developments have illustrated that had this been the case, I would have made a lovely chewy snack for the Snow Leopards, and someone would have discovered my frozen bones come springtime.

This perhaps requires some further explanation.


I’ll admit that when I first got the bike back to its position beside the workbench in my garage, I had no desire to leap feetfirst into what I suspected was going to be a depressingly large and complex repair. The fact that much of the repair work needed to occur inside the confines of a badly lit 7 inch diameter headlamp shell working on tiny components wasn’t doing much for my enthusiasm.

So after a trip to the house of Manny, Moe and Jack to gather all of the things I knew would be required to repair existing or fabricate new wiring harnesses — flag connectors, heat shrink tubing, and several colors and gauges of primary wire — what became most important was to quiet my mind and achieve the inner peace required to remain calm and mindful in the battle that was to come.


Ordinarily, when any bit of mechanical kit belonging to me blows springs, I become temporarily insane.

This assumes, of course, that one believes I am not permanently so, but I digress.

The ‘I cannot rest until I fix it’ fugue state involves a sort of mono-mania. My mind at rest becomes filled with schematics and engineering diagrams. Where there might ordinarily be thoughts of poetry there are checklists of repair parts and UPS ship tracking data. More complex problems that don’t yield immediately to diagnosis manifest themselves in dreams. I become nervous and jerky, furtive, distracted.

I have, obviously, a more than understanding spouse.

It’s easy to understand why one wouldn’t want to welcome this state of being with open arms.

So I did what any self-aware, mature and responsible person would have done under the circumstances.

I embraced denial.

This, frankly, required all of the effort and self-control of which I am capable.

For 10 days, I didn’t go in the garage.

Other people had to take up the slack with taking out the garbage and the recycling.

The beer fridge sits on the end of the workbench next to where the S was waiting, so for those days we inhabited the Oat-Soda-Free-Zone.

Then, after those days of introspection and purification, I was ready.


One of my favorite new tech tools is an LED-based worklight. It looks exactly like the Halogen worklights of old, but is superior in a couple of major ways.

First, it generates absolutely no heat. Compared with halogen tubes of yore, which ran hot enough to be a source of ignition, and threw enough heat to limit their use in close to a work item, these lights can be placed wherever required — no matter how goofy — without any discomfort or hazard.

I set up a comfortable work area directly in front of the S. I positioned an old-fashioned 33 gallon galvanized steel trash can to my left. I have a field electronics repair bench made of a curved and tapered piece of 3/4 in plywood that I fabricated and used to great effect during the construction of my teardrop camper. The shape and taper allows it to be positioned in confined spaces to support the work during crimping and soldering. I placed the field bench atop the can and positioned my soldering iron, linemans pliers, primary wire assortment, connectors and heat shrink tubing where they were conveniently within reach. I also borrowed a camping chair of Doris’ that she uses for Plein Air painting — it’s a basic canvas folding directors chair but with an important twist — it has a 1 foot by 2 foot table that pivots up from the frame and locks into place on the right side of the chair.

With all of the tools, materials and shop manuals/wiring diagrams at the ready, I took a deep, cleansing breath, and began the work.


Anything that had been connected to the ignition switch had been effectively vaporized. I took a few pictures with my phone, made a few notes, and removed the switch connectors one at a time — fabricating replacements with the appropriate gauge, color and connector types. The main hot wire which carries juice from the switch to the rest of the bike — ignition, etc — was originally a 14 gauge wire — I replaced it with a heavier 12.

Some conductors that were not connected to the switch were also damaged. Ones where the wires were still ductile I reinsulated with heat shrink tubing. Where the wires had been mechanically or electrically compromised, I cut the damage out and spliced and replaced the damaged areas — insulating both the splices and new connectors with heat shrink.

All told, this portion of the work was proceeding far more smoothly than my initial anxiety had indicated. After a few sessions of 40 to 90 minutes, everything in the headlamp shell that had been damaged had been repaired or replaced. It was time to see if it was going to be that easy.


It wasn’t, of course.

I reconnected the battery, although I didn’t crank the negative terminal down given the statistical possibility I might have to remove it again in a hurry. The dashboard clock started. No explosions of smoke occurred.

I turned the key. The dashboard lights came on.

I pressed the starter. The right cylinder fired. I went to roll the throttle open slightly, as this bike does require slight throttle to start.

The throttle wouldn’t move. I heard a slight arc. I kill switched it and turned off the key and disconnected the battery.


My workbench has a holding fixture made of 4×4 that is used to support airhead tanks. The fixture allows me to place the tanks on the bench without having any weight resting on the fuel petcocks. I pulled the saddle and tank and placed the tank on the bench.

Upon returning to the bike, it became clear that the switch wasn’t the only return address for electrical havoc.

Sitting on the left side of the frame backbone is the Starter Protection Relay. The relay, in the /5 and /6 motorcycles sits in the middle of the positive power bus that energizes the entire motorcycle. The connections to the starter protection relay were all roasted — the relay itself has a masonite bottom which is sealed with vinyl — most of the vinyl had melted as well.

Trouble radiated outward from there.

The multiple layers of protection on the tachometer drive cable — a mechanical linkage in these bikes — both the cable jacket and a second layer of vinyl protective sleeve, were vaporized. It looked, to my eyes, like during the earliest stages of ‘the event’, that the relay had overheated, then melted through the tach cable — which then provided another route of conductivity — and the trouble kept going from there.

It was clear where the tach cable had touched the throttle cables — there were burn marks on their jackets as well, showing exposed metal sleeving. It was clear why my throttle wouldn’t open — the cables were welded internally to their jackets inside the cable.

My R90S does have a few non-standard performance modifications. One of the most important ones is an on-handlebar brake master cylinder to replace the weird alice cable operated under-tank unit that was stock on these motorcycles. Where the original master cylinder and brake light sensor sat, there is a hydraulic junction which uses the original sensor and wiring.

Although the dealer that sold these kits advertised them as a stainless steel brake line and master cylinder upgrade kit, for reasons I’ve never understood, they supplied a OEM-type rubber line to connect the master cylinder to the junction. Using rubber in this application turned the stainless steel lines that went to the calipers from performance kit into dress-up parts, as the resistance to expansion under pressure that steel provides was negated by an expanding rubber line upstream.

During the dance of the electrons, that rubber brake line had picked up a nearly dime sized deep burn. Although the front brakes were still working, the first time I was hard on the brakes entering an 80 mph corner that burn was simply my death waiting to happen. I’d need to obtain a replacement brake line.

Seeing how severe some of the second layer of damage was, I knew I needed to take a deeper look. After a brief peruse of the wiring diagram, I pulled the alternator and starter covers of the motor.

I’m so glad I did.

The wires coming off the starter relay go to the diode board and starter solenoid.

Those wires, as well, were in bad enough shape to warrant replacement.

The main wiring harness of the motorcycle, thankfully, didn’t show any signs of heat distress. These harnesses are not easily or affordably located any more, so it was some solace that I wasn’t going to need to snipe hunt up one of those.

I did have quite a list of things I was going to need though, so I cleaned up my work space, closed the garage doors, and took to my computer to locate and buy the next layer of parts I was going to need.


First order of business was the list of things that only the dealership network was going to be able to supply. A few moments with the online fische, and a new tach cable, set of throttle cables and the associated cable boots — which these days seem to have a life expectancy of about 4 months — were on the way. A few seconds of further contemplation added a complete set of headlight retaining springs — remember how this all started? — to the mix.

That was just the beginning.

Remember that the connectors on my diode board looked like they came from Salvador Dali Engineering? Stories, now suspect, relate diode boards that were reduced to useless slag by having a front engine cover graze by them while the main battery ground was still connected.

Surely mine was slagged, right?

My bike also has a period hot rod part in the form of what was then called an ignition booster. The ignition booster essentially uses the original ignition points as a low voltage switch and then puts the dwell and condenser functions into solid state stuff where the spark peak and duration is stronger and better controlled.

Of course, the unit sits right next to the melted relay and right between the Dali Rectifier and the melty stuff coming off the starter solenoid.

Given how my luck had been trending recently, I didn’t feel great about the likelihood this unit was not an ex-parrot.

I’m the sort of tech that wants to have every single part I’m going to need right at hand when I start a job. Now purchasing both a replacement diode board and ignition booster are easy, but throwing $200 at a problem I wasn’t sure I had seemed too much to appease my inner mental person.

My buddy Al, who knows a little about airheads, dropped by the garage and examined the patient, dropping a few “Hmmmmms” and “I sees”.

After consultation with Al, I resolved to fix everything we were sure was roasted — the folks at Euro Moto Electrics had a better than OEM quality engine electrics harness — and then see if these antique electronics still actually worked.

If they didn’t, replacements were just 2 Franklins and another 2 days away. I’d survive another two days, if need be.


I just didn’t like the look of my ignition switch.

While the switch was working, It had some sort of lube dripping visibly from the rear of the housing. The base of the switch, which I believe is Bakelite, was loose on the back of the lock housing — moving visibly.

It has been the one component that had taken the biggest blast of a dead short.

It was not the sort of thing you wanted to have to wonder about when running in the meat of top gear.


BMW motorcycle dealers cannot get you this switch.

BMW Mobile Tradition, the business unit set up to make sure you can get classic motorcycle parts that the dealers cannot get for you, cannot get you this switch.

Even the small population of European suppliers of ‘pattern parts’ don’t have this switch, or even reasonable facsimile thereof.

So I would need to find a used part.

Al had recommended Larry “Stoner” Stonestreet — owner of an independent California BMW shop.

Stoner was able to supply a fairly good condition used switch, and at a fairly reasonable price, especially considering the supply/demand thing.

I would need to find a skilled or adventurous locksmith, later, but was trying to break the overall problem down into single, bite size pieces.

That was going to be a different mouthful.


I didn’t really like the look of my headlight ring, either, come to think of it.

In the entire time I’d had the bike, it had always been kinda flaky.

My bike was an early 1975 — and it had the /5 type spring retaining clip at the bottom of the headlight ring. It had always had a propensity for not fitting as deterministically as I’d prefer — and either popping lose or rotating on the headlight.

BMW, of course, had redesigned the part to use a screw driven clamp, which pointed the way to he possibility that mine was not the only one that behaved less than admirably.

Add to its list of sins that this one had spit the spring that nearly incinerated the bike and one can understand why I might not have fond or confident feelings about it.

The nice folks at Wunderlich had an OEM quality part of the new design for almost half what the dealers were asking, so we PayPaled up on of those.


When the next group of packages were received and arranged on the workbench, I went back down for another dive.

I pulled the fairly crispy tach cable — it broke in half during removal — and replaced it with a new one and its matching rubber engine grommet.

The throttle cables were next. During the miniature spring wrestling match that is installing new cables in a DelOrto carb, one of the needle retaining clips popped loose. I quickly checked a few technical sources to see where it was supposed to be.

“Third from the top of four grooves.”

My needles have three, of course.

I went with the center groove. If I proved to be wrong, it would take 10 minutes to set right.

The wires on the rectifier and starter solenoid were replaced — the new ones all looked like they were one wire gauge heavier than the ones which had failed.

After everything was connected, I reconnected the battery and — using the old switch — turned the key. I checked the basic systems of the bike — no smoke leakage and everything I could test — turn signals, brake lights, horn — all appeared to be working. I quickly tested the starter and it spun over.

So I replaced the fuel tank, reattached the fuel lines and wished there was some sort of approved entreaty to a motorcycle deity.

I set the choke, pressed the starter and waited through what seemed like way too many compression strokes.

“Easy, mate. The fuel system had been dry, the carbs have been apart, it’s going to take some time to get the jets primed, it’s just going to take a bit longer….”

At this point, the left cylinder fired, and engine stumbled to life, then took throttle cleanly and revved. The alternator light went out, and the voltimeter swung reassuringly and deterministically to the right — a nice solid 14.2 volts.

We might not be there yet, but this was going to be all right.


With things coming back together, I needed to source and install a brake line for my suspect burned one.

Since this application was a non-stock one, I was resigned to contacting the dealer from whom I’d originally purchased the upgrade kit, figuring that was the path of least resistance. I called them on the phone to discuss it several times without success. I’d either be placed on hold and then dumped to voice mail or get routed straight to voice mail. Having left messages twice without a return phone call I concluded this was another sign from the MotoGods that said entity was neither interested in either me or my little problem.

The guys at Adventure Rider had, as always, the solution. They fingered Bud Provin, a very skilled tech that had formerly worked in my area, and his business, The Nickwackett Garage, as the best source for any kind of custom stainless steel brake or clutch lines. I shot Bud an email, and, true to his ADV-reputation, he knew the kit, the dimensions, and fabbed and shipped exactly what I needed within about 2 hours of the initial contact. Heck, as a former customer, Bud even shipped it before I’d made payment arrangements.

In a world filled with distrust, assholes and hacks, both Bud and his work stand out as examples of integrity and sterling craft.

At lunchtime the next day, I met the mailman coming up the driveway and took the box directly to the workbench.

Bud’s stainless steel line was a nice an example as I’d ever seen — small diameter, beautiful fittings, and a unique setup for rotating and positioning the main banjo fitting for the master cylinder connection. The entire stainless steel line between fittings was covered in a transparent vinyl jacket to keep the braided line from buzz-sawing anything it might rest against.

After about 20 minutes with the 12 and 13 mm box end wrenches from the bike’s stock tool kit, and my trusty 7 liter hand pumped beast of a MityVac fluid evacuator, the new line was in place. I could tell, even before any road test, that with the reduced line volume and expansion, that power and feel from the antique single piston brake calipers was markedly improved.



The next order of business was to get a trustworthy ignition switch installed. It would be better still if I could get it rekeyed so it matched my steering stem and saddle locks.

With my replacement used switch in hand, I started calling locksmiths around Frederick. Telling a shaggy dog story about an old german motorcycle, a fire and an oddball lock scared a few off them off. After a few calls, though, we had a live one.

The guys at Able Locksmiths are motorcycle enthusiasts, and they were able to develop a plan on the fly.

“Pull the damaged switch from the bike and bring both it and the new one up to the shop. We can use the burned switch to figure out how it works — its expendable — and as a source of lock wafers or mechanism if we need it.”

As a plan, it seemed pretty solid, so I pulled the suspect switch, threw the ziplock bag of parts into my topcase of my K bike, and scooted off for Frederick.

The guys at Able were better than their plan.

The smith that drew my job took the old switch and placed it on a no-rebound work mat. This work surface had little miniature trays to organize tiny parts and long rubber fingers that ensured that work stayed where one placed it, and if parts flew loose, they would be arrested and kept from bouncing free. The Smith had the old switch disassembled in 3 minutes or so — immediately lit up with a smile and then went after the good one. While he was working he talked with me about the 1947 HD Servi-Car he rode, and the Ural sidecar rig he planned to buy. Anybody that scores this consistently high on the Moto-wierdness scale is completely cool by me.

After 10 minutes, the undamaged lock of my burned switch had been transplanted to the new switch, and I was $15 dollars lighter and back up the road towards the garage.

After 10 minutes or so in the garage, the hybrid repaired switch was back in the bike and functioning perfectly.


A confident man might have begun thinking that we were in the home stretch of this job.

When it comes to vehicular electrical work, I am not a confident man.

I started out by looking for some good quality restoration pictures of BMW electrical systems of similar vintage. As they did many times during this job, my fellow inmates at Adventure Rider were able to shed light on what needed to be done. Factory and factory quality wiring had some qualities that were notably missing from my headlamp shell.

All of the harnesses that enter the shell are — in stock condition — routed around the outside of the shell and held in place with ductile metal clamps that are provided for that purpose. The connections to the circuit card which forms the core of the electrical system are the achieved by fanning out the individual connections from the harnesses and fastening them to numbered and color coded connections on the card. This arrangement makes all of the headlamp wiring easier to access and repair, but also opens up a needed void space in the center of the headlamp shell, and ensures that the headlamp wiring and associated connections are not pressed into the rear of the headlamp assembly.

In my case, where a non-stock LED headlamp’s heatsink needed about a half an inch of additional clearance, this arrangement was even more important. It is possible that some ‘negative clearance’ had helped the significant errant spring in its errant springing that had started the whole unseemly chain of events.

So I spent some time ‘grooming’ the existing wiring — inserting extra slack wire of the main harness through the bottom of the headlamp and routing the harness around the outside of the shell. I disconnected and reconnected wires where necessary to detangle what was there and instill a sence of general order that the S likely hadn’t seen since it left the factory.

It was time to knock off for the evening, so I closed up the headlamp shell and briefly road tested the bike.

It was immediately obvious that the change in the needle jet positions was significant. The bike had reverted to the wheezy, indeterminate operation at small throttle openings that it had exhibited back when I first purchased it. I rolled the bike back into the shop and resolved to fix it during the daylight tomorrow.


After work the next day, I grabbed my trusty offset straight blade ratchet screwdriver, and pulled the tops off the DelOrtos, removed the main jet needle and dropped it to the bottommost position. Making the adjustment on both sides took all of 10 minutes.

I took the bike for a short ride as the sun went down. If you ever find yourself thinking that a single millimeter can’t make a significant difference, you’ve never had a DelOrto carburetor. Throttle response was tremendously improved, and I began to think this really was the end.

I kept right on thinking that until, about 3 miles from home, a friendly motorist pulled up beside me at a light and told me my taillight was out. Now that he mentioned it, my instrument lighting — which had always been at least a tad indeterminate — could now been seen in the darkness to be MIA as well.

I skedaddled back to the garage, nervously toeing my brake pedal now and then to keep some light showing to the rear.


It seemed we had a world-class puzzle.

I hate those.

Upon reopening the headlamp shell, I slowed my breathing and started working my way through the various wiring diagrams and photos, and began to trace conductors one at a time.

Things got weird pretty quickly.

Starting with the ignition switch wiring, it was clear that the bike had been running with two of the switch conductors reversed. It was also clear that Good Old Ham Fist, the previous owner of legend, had, during his installation and removal of his Windjammer fairing, reconnected some things in decidedly non-stock configurations.

For example, where switched hot came from the ignition switch, Ham Fist had actually managed to wire AROUND the fuses on the board. He had taken the outbound connections from the switch, which should connect to a fused bus on the right side of the circuit card, and connected them directly to the distribution connections on the other side of the fuse.

After correcting this little surprise, I started to look to see how the tailight and instrument wires were supposed to be energized. The basic chassis lighting circuit in these bikes is made up of grey wires with black stripes, and those were all connected exactly as they are supposed to be.

These gray and black conductors are energized by three possible methods.

The ignition switch has a ‘Park’ position which can energize the lighting directly. The diagrams all agreed on this point, and when I turned the key to the first ‘Park’ position, the taillight lit, exactly as it should. The second method is another grey wire, also for the park position, that comes from the European-spec switch that allows one to turn off the headlamp, and that worked exactly as it should.

But turn the headlamp on, and the taillight would go out.

I stared at the wiring diagrams for more than a long time. I was missing something, but what? Every wire I could see was in the correct place.

That was when the flash of inspiration hit.

This flash of inspiration, I should add, for those of you that may come here just for your daily dose of irony, was delivered without smoke, ozone, and smell of burning insulation that characterized my previous flash of inspiration. Or flash of the gods punishing hubris. Or flash of whatever the heck it that was that nearly vaporized me and my favorite motorcycle in the middle of Northern Virginia rush hour.

This flash was a fairly simple, but significant thing.

I wasn’t looking for something that was there, but wrong.

I was looking for something that wasn’t there.

The wiring diagram showed a third conductor to energize the taillight coming off of the headlight relay. I looked at the headlight relay, and there was an unused terminal. The diagram listed it as number 87b — with a little convolution and light in the right place I could see the number — 87b.

After two frantic moments at the workbench, I fabricated a connector with a straight blade at one end and a flag connector at the other.

I clicked the connectors into place, and then turned the headlamp on.

Houston, we have a taillight.

Now observant folks will wonder — I know I did — how in Sam Hell the bike managed to work properly before all if this electrical havoc occurred.

And I’m forced to conclude that knowing this is one of those things I’m just never going to possess — its one of the mysteries of the universe.

I replaced the headlamp ring and screwed it firmly into place.

I started the bike and tried all of the electrical system — headlight, parking light, instrument lighting, turn signals, horn, tail and brake lights. This time, we were clean and getting 100% on the QA.

It was time to take the bike back to the road.



In old motorcycles, electricity, and the quality and quantity thereof really drives the performance of the entire system. Ignition coils, capacitive discharge ignitions, resistor spark plug caps and spark plugs all respond subtly but positively to any increases in available juice. It’s what moved the change from 6V to 12V electrics, and it’s what drove the increases in alternator output and better storage batteries.

The best and most recent example I can provide was after the recent replacement of the main ignition switch in my /5 and the upgrade of the battery to a high tech — for a /5, anyway — AGM Deka battery, the whole motorcycle was transformed. The motor ran noticeably smoother, throttle response was better, and the behavior of the motor at top end and its willingness to rev — not that I need to do that with the very bottom end biased delivery of the 900cc motor — were all noticeably improved.

Upon taking to the road, the R90S was similarly transformed. The motor was smoother, throttle response was better. One of the first motorcycle stories I ever wrote was called ‘Stronger Through Adversity’, which was a tale about how breaking things inevitably drove better performance, and that was clearly in evidence here.

The change to the new brake line was also a bonus — there’s much more power available and I’m able to one-finger brake on corner entrances for the first time.

I can only speculate about what may have been sub-optimal in the configuration of the motorcycle electrics before the catastrophe — the ignition switch may have already been compromised, either through worn or burned contacts. Some of the misrouted wiring may have been responsible for choking off the amount of available current to ignition components. The strategic changes I made — by increasing the wire gauges of critical hot feeds, both from the ignition switch to the main board and from the starter solenoid to the diode board, may have allowed more current to the entire ignition system.

What ever it was, though, the change was staggering. With my /5, there really is no top end. The small valves of the 750 cc heads and small carbs can’t really move enough mixture to snap that engine to redline.

This engine, though, is a different beast. The heads are set up for top end operation. The carbs are large and there are long aluminum intake venturies designed to move mixture at maximum load and flow.

After tiptoeing through several brief heat cycles and riding with my fingers crossed for a few days (really hard to open the throttle that way) I got out on one of my favorite stretches of straight road — Md 17 between Brunswick and Burkettsville, and coming out of the traffic circle, went up through the gears WFO. The top end behavior of the bike was transformed — the last 1500 rpms before redline had a brand new snap — there was clearly better fire in those big holes.

There’s a dogleg about 3/4s of a mile from the circle, so we didn’t grab top gear until the exit from that corner. Before the meltdown, it always felt to me that the theoretical top speed of the bike — roughly 125 to 130 mph — was a long way from the ton where I usually begin to lose interest.

It doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Throttle response used to be strong — but in top gear acceleration used to roll off around 90. Today, the calibrated butt accelerometer was pegged — no roll off even in top gear, as the revs came up, so did the power. It was a laughing inside the helmet moment of the first order.

So do I recommend or endorse bursting into flame as a motorcycle tuning method?


But it’s sure hard to argue with the results.

Wrenchin’ with Nixon


There was a point in my life when the shit I didn’t know vastly outweighed the shit I did know.

That probably isn’t earthshattering news.

Heck, I can even think of a few people who might opine that those days never ended, but we’re not going to get hung up on their negative vibe, man.

As a puppy motorcyclist — bright eyed, empty headed, and 22 years old — the things I didn’t know about motorcycling were manifold and encyclopedic in scope.

I didn’t know anything about motorcycling history.

Anything more complicated than Honda and Harley-Davidson were utterly wasted on me. Motoguzzi? FN? Sarolea? The Vincent? Aermacci? MV Agusta? Velocette? Huh?

I knew less about motorcycle engineering. Telescopic Forks? Roller and plain bearings? Overhead Cams? Twin Swirl Heads? Frame rigidity and controlled flex? Progressive linkages? Air cooling? Singles, Twins, Fours and Sixes? You talkin’ to me?

My knowledge of motorcycle competition was even more miniscule. To nothing and more than nothing we added nothing to a higher power. I thought that Glen Curtiss only made airplanes. Cal Rayborn? Kenny Roberts? Who? Geoff Duke? A movie star? Giacomo Agostini? Maybe an Italian restaurant?

Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and I started with a blank sheet of paper and the sound of crickets.

I hope I can be forgiven.

Its not like we Americans provide a great deal of public respect and adulation to what should be our motorcycle racing heros. Bike race winners aren’t on the evening news or the front page of the paper the way NASCAR and Indianapolis winners are. Even today, the number of American competitors in the Global MotoGP championships is a tiny minority, will the majority coming from Europe and elsewhere.

Why kill all these electrons to drive home the point of how dumb I was?

Don’t make me get ahead of myself.


How dumb I was starts to explain how anyone might think it was a good idea to buy a 1973 Honda CB750 Four that someone else has tried to hack and modify into an American Style Cruiser.

The bike had a Two Inch Overstock Extended Fork, Kerker Four Into One Exhaust, K&N Pod Air Filters, and a stepped cruiser saddle. It was working way too hard to be cool. That Honda — my first street motorcycle — was a magnificent motor wrapped in total, utter garbage. Every single one of those modifications had made the bike less ridable by degrading its handling and throttle response. It was pretty cool with the revs up in a straight line, but everywhere else it was a nightmare.

That nightmare was on big-screen display every time I entered a corner. The extended front end had moved the already high center of gravity higher and the weight distribution further rearward. The OEM shock absorbers, which were never that good to begin with, were no longer even phoning it in with 40,000 miles on them and under these less-than-optimum conditions. Once leaned in the bike was a pogoing, wandering mess on which it was absolutely impossible to maintain any kind of cornering line.

I may have only known one tick more than nothing, but if I wanted to survive the next year or two I knew I needed to get that motorcycle some shocks that worked.

So I went looking for some shocks.


In the early 80s, me and my Honda shared an apartment with some of my buds in Cockeysville, Maryland.

One day, while headed north on York Road, I saw a fairly loud red, white and blue sign out of my peripheral vision. I turned my head to see “Gary Nixon Enterprises — Motorcycle Parts and Performance.”

I ran up the road until I found a safe place to turn around, went back to the shop, kickstanded it, removed my helmet and went inside.

The shop seemed a little threadbare.

I remember lots of beige painted drywall, a few posters, a few fairly sparsely populated glass display cases. There was a set of red racing leathers on the wall, and then there was that guy.

My host was fairly small of stature, with greying red hair and a seriously square set of jaw.

He got up out of his chair and walked to the counter.

“Help you?”

His jaw didn’t seem to move when he talked.

I told him I was looking for some replacement shocks for my CB750.

He said he had just the thing, and named a price which I knew to be well below reasonable. I asked to see them, and he went back into the stockroom to fetch them.

While he was out of the room, I started to let my attention wander a little just to get a feel for the joint. There were pictures here and there of racebikes — local kids on dirtbikes, and some more serious-seeming road racers.

I looked back at the leathers on the wall. They were bright red, with ‘Nixon’ emblazoned across the back — in perfect 70s style, the ‘I’ in Nixon had a big star for the dot. Upon closer inspection, it seemed clear they had been cut off the original occupant.

There was one more thing that took a long time to compute. The leathers had a fairly large, abraded hole, pretty much right where the left buttock of the user would have been.

I was having a ‘Mr. Jones Moment’. I was pretty sure something was happenin’, but I didn’t know what it is, yo. The hardness, the perverse humor, the fairinged and sponsor stickered road racers in the picture…

“Some shit, huh? Was wearing those on the Kawasaki Triple, flat out on the front straight at Daytona, when the two stroke sumbitch siezed right up. Slid on my ass almost the whole length of the straight. Ha!”

His jaw, Gary Nixon’s jaw, definitely didn’t move when he talked.

There was a reason for that, which you can find told in any history of American Motorcycle Racing. This was Grand National Champion Gary Nixon, one of the most competitive, gifted and unlucky men ever to grab the bars and twist a throttle.

But to my younger self, whose Native American name was “Sound-of-Crickets”, this was just a friendly guy in a bike shop — a lively soul like many more I would meet around bikes. I had no clue this was the equivalent of buying your baseball bat from Mickey Mantle.

Cheep. Cheep. Cheep.


The shocks that Gary produced were Boge Mulhollands. Unbeknowst to me — OK, everything was unbeknownst to me — these were the best shocks made for that CB at the time. They were fully rebuildable, valving could be adjusted, and all the roadracers and canyon hotshoes of the day had these on their single cam Hondas. All I knew was that they cost a great deal less than the Honda dealer’s OEM shock, and they were going to do the job.

I paid the man, pumped his hand and thanked him for his help.

When I got to the curb, I looked at the bike, the box in my hands, my luggage rack and my collection of bungie cords. These things were heavy, expensive and I didn’t really like the thought of them rubber banded out there.

“Four bolts”, I thought.

“Easiest way, best way. I’ll just eat ’em here”.

I yanked out the tooklit and had the street side bolts yanked in two minutes. I pryed the former shock absorber off and replaced it with one of the Boges. Just as I was starting to tighten the first bolt, Gary came striding out the store’s front door.

“Jeeeesus Christ, kid, you can’t do that here. If my neighbors see this they’ll run my ass out of the neighborhood”.

Gary scanned left and right up and down the block, seeing nothing. He quickly checked my state of progress.

“Ah shit… gimme that 17”.

I passed him the wrench and proceeded to tighten my side back up with an adjustable I’d added to the stock kit.

Gary had his shock off in significantly less than the little time it had taken me.

We both wrapped up at roughly the same time. One chopped Honda now had two gloss black, serious business road racing shocks.


I can tell you that those Boges absolutely transformed that motorcycle. Given its extended wheelbase, it was never going to be a roadracer. Although I began to think of it as more of a streamliner railway locomotive, it did absolutely do exactly what it was told in corners from that point forward.


That was many bikes ago, but my understanding and love for cornering started that day, twisting wrenches in a parking space on the side of York Road with Gary Nixon.

As many years of riding and love for motorcycles has gone by, I’ve come to understand just who Nixon the racer was, and his importance and heroic stature in the sport we both loved. The original ‘Never Say Die’ competitor — fighting through staggering injuries, fickle motorcycle factory teams that didn’t do right by him, and even some bad race officiating that cost him a title he had won on the track.

I saw Gary many years later along with a host of other racers out at MidOhio, when BMW sponsored the ‘Battle of the Legends’ series. One of the other racers was talking to me and said, “BMW tells us that this is an exhibition. He..” pointing to Nixon, “…laughs at them every time they say that”.

Nixon was, without doubt, a legend and a racing hero. But that day, sitting on a curb, he was just another motorcyclist, no ego, no barrier, just a bud helping another bud out.

I’ve met lots of would be heros that turned out, upon familiarity, to be first class creeps

Gary Nixon wasn’t one of those.

Billy Joel, The Barn Job and the Long Highway — Conclusion

It is pointless for me to bore you with tales of manly man adventure involving bulging biceps and tire irons. Or how for as long as I’ve owned airheads, the only way to get rear tires removed has required my sweetie Doris to pull the wheel while I leaned the bike over. Tales of manly man adventure hardly ever involve folks named Doris.

It is similarly unimportant for me to regale you with tales of how unskilled I am at the fine art of installing innertubes in an undamaged manner, having already established my bona fides as a well-intentioned but semi-skilled mechanic.

Suffice it to say though, that after no small perturbation, the bike found itself with new Michelin Pilot Activs where it required them.

And it was no small sense of anticipation that I fastened the Shoei’s chinstrap and tightened the retaining straps of my elkskin gauntlets when approaching the final checkride. I’d been working, more or less continuously, to return this bike to mechanical wholeness for the better part of 7 months, to get this motorcycle back to a state of mechanical perfection which, frankly, I had never known.

I volunteered to run to the supermarket for some ingredients we needed to make the next two evening’s planned meals.  With Frederick about 8 miles away, and some creative indirect routing, we could really run the beast through its paces, and know what we really had. With a completely refreshed driveline that worked, fully functional lights, instrumentation, luggage and fairing, and fresh rubber, it was go time.

Horine Road leads away from my house, and down towards the Potomac River. Like all of our local roads that follow streambeds, the road has flat, technical twisties that are great if you know ‘em, and can be hairy if you don’t.

I know ‘em, fortunately.

The last few corners before the road T-stops into MD 464 start as sweepers and then progressively tighten up. It’s a good way to triage one’s skills and see if this has the potential to be your day or it definitely isn’t.

So far, this was seeming like it was my day.

Even with the reserve one sensibly leaves with new rubber installed, the S was just eating it up. The new skins were allowing the bike to change lines like a bicycle – rolling in and rolling out was absolutely effortless. Once on line, the bike held it.  Drives out had a new authority – torque was getting directly to the contact patch without the waste that the now remedied transmission bearings, bad lash and slipping clutch had been squandering.

A brief blast up through the gears on 464 put me on the top of Lander Road. Lander is another one laner that leads down to the C&O Canal, and is incredibly technical. The game here is elevation — all of the corners — 120s, 220s — have apexes that are either at the bottoms or the tops of hills.   The trick here is to manage drive and make sure one’s lane position doesn’t put you too far out into the lane where you could become a pickup truck hood ornament on one of the many blind spots. You also need to be prepared to take an occasional whack in the shin or a forearm with a small errant tree branch in order to play this game.

This is really one of my favorite roads. On a modern supersport, especially any kind of multi, you’d be in way over your head – it would be too much bike on way too little road, and that kind of big power would be a more of a hindrance than a help. But on this little goat path of a road, the S is in its element – changing speeds and directions constantly – the agility and torque of the S was made for this. After about the fourth or fifth hairpin with a little wheelie punctuation on a low speed exit, reality itself seemed to take on an other-worldly quality, with all of the things within my sight seeming as if they were lit by some light from within.

Lander Road is only a short ride, and was too soon over.

Maryland 464 leads from the top of Lander down to the Potomac River and US15. There was a time, back before Frederick County became another poster child for bad planning and overdevelopment, when US 15 was one flat, arrow straight perfectly smooth piece of pavement with nobody driving on it between the Point of Rocks Bridge and US 340.  Before I left Baltimore to move here, I spent a few months commuting over this road, mostly on my /5, but once in a while in my departed 1971 8.0 Liter V-8 Cadillac. I can remember being behind one car out on this stretch of highway, taking the pedal to the floor for a two lane pass, and feeling the Gs as I got pressed back in the seat heading for somewhere well north of where the 120 mph speedometer ran out of numbers. I had that road to myself, and lots of room to stretch out.

Things are assuredly not that way anymore.

Congestion and development have dropped a few traffic lights where there weren’t any, and even a traffic circle is now where MD 464 drops in. There are still some straight stretches with great visibility, but one usually has lots of company.

But today, remember, was shaping up to be my day.

When I hit the traffic circle I had to sit for quite a while waiting to get my opening. When the gap finally appeared, I got in the gas, beat the northbound traffic to the entry to the circle, and found open pavement ahead as I shifted up and straightened the bike out headed up the highway.

I took third gear out to about 7000 rpm – thonk!

Fourth gear bit hard and I shifted to top at about 4200 – thonk!

I leaned forward slightly to get the bottom of my helmet inside the protection of the fairing, and went to the stops.   The hammering of each power pulse smoothed out as the rpms rose through 5000. With the revs up, instead of feeling like it was straining for every additional ounce of speed, the power and acceleration of the bike picked up momentum. Things got smoother, and the power and acceleration continued to build.

As the speedo quickly swung through 105 mph, and feeling like there was more than plenty left, I rolled out of the throttle.  This was, after all, a 40 year old motorcycle, and how much there was left in there was something I just really didn’t need to find out.

I already knew everything I’d come here for.


I’m sitting at my desk looking at an old Maryland MVA Title Certificate. It lists the date of issuance as July 7, 1994, and the mileage at time of issue as 74,115 miles. It has taken more than 20 years and close to 60,000 miles for this bike to finally close back in on the potential perfection that it had in it when it left the pen of Hans Muth and the Spandau assembly line in Berlin back in November of 1974.

It has been liberating to move beyond spinning wrenches in anger. I’ve spent most of my free time since putting them back in the toolbox stacking firewood.  I’ll admit I did do some wrenching, but it was to disassemble and regasket the woodstove that keeps my house warm in the wintertime. My biker intuition tells me that I had no time to spare in completing that job, as compared to the pace of the work to complete the R90S.

It was 47 degrees yesterday morning when I rolled the S out to go to the office. For a guy that thought it was still summer this was kind of a shock to the system, and made the cup of coffee I skipped a lot less important. As a refurbishment that started out with the notion of having a great bike to ride through this summer, I get the sinking feeling I’ll be lucky if I sneak in 5 good rides on it before I’m looking for Heidenau Knobbies and some snow chains for my LT. But seven months of productive work to get this bike where I always wanted it seems pretty insignificant over the 20 years of road we’ve shared.


There are lots of ways that one can get high.

One way is for me to really kiss my mate Doris, who still playfully loses her cool with me when the rush she provides proves overwhelming – even after 30 years – and I end up knocked down to my knees, sputtering, gasping and giggling because she’s just still too nice for me to fully process.  Lots of folks don’t get to have that for 30 days, much less 30 years. I appreciate it for the unique blessing that it is.

The best champagne in the correct amounts can bring on a feeling that transcends mere alcohol. I have champagne and its cousin, cognac, to indirectly thank for some of the more fun, poorly considered (if considered at all) and transformational moments in my life.

As someone who deeply loves music and poetry I know that they, too, can be transformative – playing back whole universes and multiple lifetimes of memories and emotions that can also fully sever one’s relationship with the ground. There are songs and poems that I find so powerful that I cannot hear them without being moved to tears.

Heck, even a little herb, and getting all irie, mon, will sometimes do the trick.

All of these highs are perfectly right in their correct place and selected time.

But then there are those days.

Those days of grace where this story started, and to which now we come full circle.  Those days marked by runs down stretches of winding road where time itself slows down almost to the point of stopping, and where an old machine – now made new – and I communicate seamlessly with no intermediaries, no filters and no boundaries.  Where what skill that I have developed in my years in the saddle turns the physics of acceleration and braking, the edges of tires, footpegs and bars into something that is so close to flight that local raptors sometimes fly alongside to play as I ride. Where my emotions, my spirit, fly freer and higher than anything else I know.

And instead of being the end of the long highway, the very next time this boxer motor booms to life is really just the beginning.



The previous part of the story can be found here….

The beginning of this saga can be found here….


Billy Joel, The Barn Job and the Long Highway — Part Eleven

After my hopeless eff-up of a clutch job, I put nearly 1,600 miles on, slowly looking to the hope that time and wear would rescue me from my own lack of mechanical skill. At a certain point, I simply resolved to replace the entire clutch pack, regardless of time, expense, or aggravation. While I was at it, my last set of Michelin Macadams were at the end of their life, so they would have to go, as well.

I hadn’t come down so long a road with this bike to pull up one step short of mechanical perfection. There had been a long list of defects and faults that had been painstakingly excised, and I could see the end of the road from here.

So I went to my computer, and sourced the parts that would be required to get this project home. A new set of Michelin Pilot Activs, in the stock inch sizes. Matching Michelin airstop tubes. Beemer Boneyard had a new Siebenrock Basic Plus organic clutch friction plate which used a lightened carrier – like those BMW had adopted for its newer twins – combined with an improved friction compound that was supposed to offer higher torque transmission and longer wear.  The lightened carrier should be good for a slight reduction of rotational inertia, and a faster revving engine, as well. Then I obtained a new heavy duty diaphragm spring, pressure plate, pressure ring and clutch bolts from a BMW dealer.

Now it was time to wait for the UPS man, and then try to clear enough time in my calendar to bring the entire job finally home.


Coming up to one weekend, the weather report absolutely sucked.

Now normally, weekends are time for camping trips, for yardwork, for trips to the C&O Canal Towpath, for motorcycle rides – for enjoying the beautiful outdoors that my Central Maryland home provides in abundance. Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve been riding motorcycles and bicycles in the rain, I’ve taken canoe trips in the rain, I’ve done more camping in the rain (and some in the snow!) than I’d really care to recall, and I’d be the first to admit that nature also has beauty in abundance when it’s raining, too.

But nature also provides cycling jerseys with brown stripes of mud up the back, cold sodden socks and boots, and sleeping bags with little yacht racing courses magically hidden within.

So it’s one thing to already be in the outdoors, and deal with what Mother provides with grace and cheer. It’s all together another thing to head out when it’s already a Beautiful Day To Be a Duck. And it looked like we had several of those days on tap.

So, given the plethora of other things we would not prefer to do in the rain, it looked like I had the time I would require to unwind my own dumnisnitude, and could tear into this bike for what one could only hope would be the last time for a while. And on the bright side, the fact that I had done this fairly recently, meant my knowledge was fresh and that some little procedural tricks to smooth the way were firmly in mind and readily at hand.

Finally, I did something that I’ve been thinking about for a great while, but had never done. I’d experimented with some disposable nitrile gloves when performing work like this. My experience was that most nitrile gloves had a life expectancy of about 25 minutes in this kind of use. My various bike supply catalogs had been pitching Mechanix brand gloves for years, so I went down to my local auto parts emporium – where everyone knows my name – and dropped $15 bucks on a pair. I do not regret that decision at all – coming inside after removing and replacing a transmission without reeking of sulfurous gear oil, with no dirt and oil under my nails and no cuts and bruises on my hands was a revelation. Although I’ll admit there may have been one or two places where a very slight reduction in dexterity was apparent, these gloves will be part of my mechanic kit from now on.


Out in the garage the drill was revisited. Tank and seat removed. Airbox, manifolds and battery out. Clutch throwout and cables removed, swingarm pivots out, driveshaft unbolted. Gearbox mount points undone, neutral light switch disconnected, and gearbox rolled out the left side of the frame.

Sounds simple, right? Wouldst that I could do it as fast as I can describe it.

I got my boxes full of new stuff from my suppliers and laid the parts out on a plastic sheet that had enclosed the new pressure plate during shipment. Stuff was laid down beside the bike in order, because, well, visualization helps.

So on my floor we had the diaphragm spring, pressure plate, Siebenrock clutch plate, pressure ring and six fillister head bolts.


I also got the drawer out of my rather massive hardware organizer system on my workbench that contained the secret sauce for this job – my clutch tool kit. Six overlength bolts, nuts, washers and the Ed Korn centering arbor.

The old clutch came out easily – the six bolts were easy to remove against the spring tension, and the parts came right out when the last bolt came free.

My curiosity, of course, wanted a detailed examination of the friction plate and pressure ring. All things considered, it didn’t look that bad, but there were traces of where the moly grease had walked to the outside of the friction disk, and clear signs of local spot overheating and slippage on the matching pressure surfaces. It wasn’t bad, but it was bad enough. Suffice it to say a little moly goes a very long way.

I don’t own a micrometer, so I can’t tell if the old clutch was already under the minimum thickness spec. It would be great if it was, because then I would only feel about 38% as stupid as I currently felt for having had to do this job twice. I have kept the disk on my workbench, though. Next time I visit someone that I know owns one, you can bet I’m going to measure that friction plate.

Knowledge is power. This ain’t over till it’s over.


In one of BMW’s airhead boxer motors, installation of a new clutch pack is trivial if you have the tools and you’ve already removed the transmission. I placed the diaphragm spring into the recess in the flywheel and laid the pressure plate on top of it. The Siebenrock friction disk went into the middle and then the pressure ring closed the whole affair up. I ran three of the overlength bolts into their tapped holes in the flywheel, placed the centering arbor into the clutch splines, and then began running the bolts down to compress the pack against the spring tension. Once the spring was mostly compressed I started three of the short clutch bolts and then went around in a star pattern tightening everything up until the pressure ring was in full contact with the flywheel.

Then I removed the overlength bolts one at a time and replaced them with the other three clutch bolts. One all six were in place, I went around the horn and tightened everything to the final torque specification.


Sort of.

Now the whole teardown needed to run in reverse.


First the gearbox goes back in place, and the bolts that hold it are hand tightened. Then there is the most finicky part of the job – getting the driveshaft bolts back into place and retorqued.

This is a tiny minefield – one has to operate in the 1 5/8 inch available between the driveshaft boot and the rear of the transmission.  If, heavens forfend, you should bobble and drop one of these bolts, it will very likely disappear down into the bottom of the driveshaft housing.

How I know this is something of which we shall never speak of again.

Except perhaps to say that if one were to have one of those powerful, tiny telescoping magnets that one sometimes sees in tool stores, it would be worth any amount of money at such a time and would be capable of transmuting deepest despair into the purest most unalloyed joy.

Remember, though, we shall not speak of this.

I was able, this time, to avoid such horrors, and got all four bolts threaded back up onto their holes in the output flange. To tighten these bolt back to spec, though, one has to relocate the swingarm up into position and reinstall the pivot pins, as one needs the resistance of the wheel and rear brake to push against.

My endurance is not what it used to be, I guess, because at about this time my ability to form usefully coherent thoughts and do bench presses with rear wheel and swingarm assemblies began to decline precipitously.

Dinner, blood sugar, beer and sleep seemed to be much better ideas than pushing forward though fatigue. I’d done one major dumbness pressing forward under such conditions recently, and was determined to keep my Dumb-o-meter pegged at ‘1’.


That night, my brain continued to mess with me in my sleep while it showed eyeball movies of scissors jacks and prybars dancing with swingarm pivots.

The next morning, though, with said brain actually supplied with energy and working, mental connections were far easier to complete.

After standing in front of the bike for all of about three minutes, the dim recollection of the rear brake trick flickered in my brain, and I hooked up the rear brake rod, stood on the pedal and watched everything line back up.

30 minutes later, the whole bike was back together. I fired the motor briefly to center the transmission, and then tightened up the 4 transmission mounting bolts.

I spent a few minutes checking my work, and as I was adjusting the free play on the clutch mechanism, the sun came out outside the garage.

Meteorology, to say the least, is an inexact science.

I pulled on a Bell 500 open face helmet I keep lying around for these little short distance test blasts, warmed the bike and went up and down the street in front of the house a few times. The clutch engagement felt great – soft, smooth engagement and clean disengagement. I stopped in the end of my driveway and checked the clutch free play again and did a final visual inspection.

I refired the motor and gently trolled though my neighborhood. If anything, with a clutch that actually worked properly, Mark’s gearbox seemed even more precise. I slowed down by the park at the other end of the neighborhood, dropped to first gear, and stopped. I engaged the clutch again and started smoothly – then I rolled the throttle open.

The bars went light in my hands as the ‘thock’ of the fork’s top out stops rang out.  Clearly we had entered the ‘zero driveline slippage zone’. I gave the throttle back and headed for the entrance to the highway with a big, evil grin on my face.


I only ran about 15 miles on the checkride, but it was quite clear that the R90S had been restored to its former feisty glory. The bike pulled hard from low rpms, and all of the top end was back, too. Shifting around 5500-6000 rpms revealed a gearbox that was nothing less than spot on perfect. My 2000 K bike does not shift this positively.

I ran down St. Marks Road, a pretty typical one lane country road that follows the bed of Catoctin Creek, and finally got to enjoy the sensation of steering with the throttle again, rolling off on the way in and back on on the way out. Over little rises with the gas dialed on she’d lift the front wheel.

Might I have gotten a little verklempt inside that Bell 500? It was probably just the wind leaking around my glasses.

Since I wasn’t in anything like full gear, I headed back to the garage to clean up the debris from the major tear down, so that I could regain use of my garage.



The Absolutely Thrilling Conclusion of this story can be found here…

The previous part of the story can be found here….

Billy Joel, The Barn Job and the Long Highway — Part Ten

When the opportunity to fully test my work came at Monday lunchtime, I geared up in leathers and a full face and headed for the road.

Again, I tiptoed around my neighborhood, stopping for a brief roadside ‘has-anything-fallen-off-or-caught-fire’ roadside inspection. Having cleared pre-flight, I turned right on Maryland Route 180, and headed for my favorite set of near-the-house twisties. The first thing I noticed was a strange absence of noise from the cockpit, which had formerly been a rattling mess. Apparently, the rubber fairing seal provided a great deal more support and vibration isolation than one would suppose any mere rubber band was capable of. The cockpit now seemed far more solid and finished than it ever had previously.

With everything in the transmission newly installed, and no doubt requiring some bedding in, I was very judicious on my use of the throttle – smooth openings and no full honk for a least a few miles. Shifting the box at 5000 rpms instead of 3500 confirmed by initial impression – Mark Delaney had somehow built the best BMW gearbox I’d ever experienced from a collection of bits of questionable provenance. Shifts were positive, sliding into place with a firm, Teutonic thonk – thonk – thonk – thonk – right through the entire gearset. I was nearly ecstatic.

Ecstasy, though, was exceedingly short lived.

One of the characteristically wonderful things about a properly setup carbureted motorcycle – and a defining characteristic of the R90S – is the perfectly tractable bottom to top response curve that opening the throttle anywhere in the rev range provides. It has taken the designers of Fuel Injection systems a very, very long time to even get digital systems in the same game with as properly setup carburetors when looked at in terms of flexibility and tractability. If Fuel Injection tends to be digital — on/off — then a bike like the S is determinedly analog — a smooth continuum from less to more.

How this works is plainly evident on any tight, technical backroad. On my R90, one can begin opening the throttle slides just before the apex of a corner, and even if the engine speeds are somewhat below the engine’s torque peak, the exhaust note will go hard, the bike will set the rear tire, and will slingshot out the corner exit and up the next straight. Corner entries that are properly anticipated can be managed in a similar way through a judicious roll out of the throttle at the right point on entry. On rollercoaster roads with rises and falls on straights and corner exits the S bike will unload its forks, you’ll hear the ‘thunk’ of top out stops, and the bars will go light in your hands as the R90 power wheelies in any of its bottom three gears.  The broad torque of the S motor and its DellOrto PHM 38 Accelerator Pump carburetors make backroad dancing pure bike jazz.

This was that feeling that led me down the road of ministering to a tired, nearly 40 year old motorcycle. This was what sustained me while aching hips and knees were getting bashed around the concrete slab of my garage floor, and while my hands were getting bruised from wrenches and being knocked off frame tubes, and while my skin was absorbing enough grease and my own blood from manifold cuts and scrapes for me to despair of ever looking clean again.

And when, on that test ride, when I finally set up for a corner exit at about 3400 rpm, and firmly rolled the throttle open, that peak nearly moto-erotic experience was exactly what wasn’t there.

At the point where the S would normally dig in, grunt out a hard edged “WHaaaaaaah…”, and do that intoxicating slingshot thing, the tach needle snapped up, the clutch skipped out, and basically nothing happened.

I knew instinctively what mistake I’d made, what was wrong, and what I was looking at to set it right.

I felt as about small as I’ve ever felt. My disappointment knew no bounds.


I’ll admit I rode the bike this way for more than a little while. I’d experienced a few airhead clutches that were slightly subpar after this kind of service, and most of the time they ran through it. After a few miles, whatever contamination was present was worn off, friction surfaces remated, and all was right with the world. You can be forgiven, if this ever happens to you, for thinking that things might improve. You can be forgiven, but take it from me, things will never go back to being perfect. Over more than 1000 miles, things did improve slightly, and the rpm range where power could be used widened, but at root, this bike had been essentially gelded – the very bottom and very top of the usable rev range had been removed, and the essential spirit of this motorcycle had been exiled.

There was going to be more dollars and more quality garage floor concrete slab time required if everything was going to be set aright.


There were a few other things that required my attention in addition to the results of my own stupidity.

I had a set of factory BMW touring cases that – while they were cosmetically rough – were functionally far better that the Krausers that came with the bike. With the exception of one of the frame latches, which was visibly cracked and could be expected to expire sometime in the next 12 minutes or so, they were all there and would be perfectly serviceable after some care and attention. I ordered up a case latch – which had to come from Germany – and a rivet gun.

I’ve broken more airhead case latches than I care to recall. Every time it’s happened before, I would take the case to a dealer, who would sell me the latch and then charge me to rivet it on. I was determined to be as self-sufficient as possible here, and the $10 that a Stanley Works rivet gun cost me at my local Wally World seemed like a good investment.  A few minutes of practice and few minutes of attention repaired the frame latch on this case.

These cases, as mechanically sound as they might be, were distinctly not pretty. They’d been painted a highly metallic grey to match my /5, and then been subjected to roughly 15 years of boot scrapes, being banged off of bright yellow-painted parking lot divider pipes, having their front corners ground off by being touched down in corners, and at least one major crash where the /5 had taken a 20-30 foot slide resting on top of the left case.

After completing the latch repair, I rode back and forth to work with them for a few days, just to make sure they were going to survive in daily use. At that point, I finally smacked to the ugly limiter – hard – and went searching for a solution. The Adventure Riders came through again, as they had a whole thread about painting hard cases with pickup truck bedliner paint – complete with good quality pictures that convinced me these were going to look better than new ones when I was done.

And so we had another trip to Wally World. Their automobile department had Rust-Oleum brand aerosol bedliner paint in two colors – matt sand and matt black. I went with the black. Their hardware department had 3M Blue Painters tape. Total budget – $9.

Upon arrival home, I unbolted the case lids and lightly sanded them with a palm sander and some fine sandpaper. I washed them with a damp rag to remove the sanding dust and then spent a few minutes masking off the badges, reflectors, latches and trim on the cases. I took a large piece of cardboard and laid it outside on my lawn, and laid the saddlebag lids down on it. I coated the lids once, waited 20 minutes and coated them again. An hour later, they were ready to put back on the bike. I was absolutely stunned. They looked nothing less than great – Imagine what a brand new Krauser case looked like in 1975 and you get close, only the pebble effect on the surface was somewhat finer.  Even the spots where there were substantial gouges were essentially filled – one could only see them if you knew where they were beforehand. Best $10 fix ever, bar none.


I mentioned Ham Pugnus’ attachment to bad 80s vintage adhesive BMW Roundels. This is a head scratcher, because the R90S is one of two 1970s vintage motorcycles that still had actual cloisonné enamel tank badges. Lord only knows, and I will not speculate as to what happened to the original ones from this motorcycle. BMW does still sell the OEM ones, but they retail for over $50 a badge. While I may think, in my purely biased way, that my motorcycle is attractive, it certainly is never going to be entered in, much less win, any vintage motorcycle shows. A certain regional enthusiast BMW dealer has commissioned some reproductions of the original cloisonné badges, and they are visually indistinguishable from the originals.  At $24 a side, I could rationalize it.

Installing them was straightforward. I loosened the adhesive on the yellowed badges with a blow drier. I passed a few strands of dental floss behind the roundels to serve as an improvised flexible hacksaw – it was quite effective at removing the old badges. After removing the old adhesive residue with rubbing alcohol, I used 3M automotive trim double sided tape to position and affix the new badges.


It’s amazing how something as small as a tank badge can have an almost talismanic effect on the whole presence of a motorcycle. Whereas – with the yellowed, cheap badges in place, the bike looked sad, neglected – it now somehow had acquired a presence, an aura. This simple touch had taken us all the way from donkey to thoroughbred.



To continue reading, Part Eleven of the story can be found here…

The previous part of the story can be found here….